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KIT PEDLER - A classic article biography by David Auger

In 1981, Terry Jones opened an edition of the BBC’s book review programme ‘Paperbacks’ by saying that he had never before realised how close one could feel to someone when reading a book they had written until he heard about the death of the author of ‘The Quest for Gaia’. Dr. Kit Pedler had died at his home near Sittingbourne, Kent on May 27th. He was fifty—three.

Christopher Magnus Howard Pedler trained in medicine and qualified as a pathologist, working in several London hospitals, before gaining a second doctorate for his work on the causes of retinal disease. As a result of his re— searches he published nearly forty papers concerning the eye and vision. He became a senior Reader at the University of London, where he created and headed the electron— microscopy unit of the Institute of Opthalmology. There, his interest in how the brain processes information received from the eyes led to a computer simulation of brain cells. Because of his scientific research, he was invited to become involved in broadcasting, notably with the documentary ‘The Miraculous Wonder, The Human Eye’ for the BBC’s ‘Horizon’ series, and it was this that led to his association with ‘Doctor Who’. Gerry Davis, story editor, remembers:
“I was trying to get someone who might provide ideas and vet programmes, hardening up the science. Then somebody recommended Kit Pedler. I invited him round and tried him out. I was sitting in the office, from which you can see the Post Office Tower, which had just been built. I used to bounce this off people: ‘What would happen if the Post Office Tower took over?’ From most people nothing really came back, nothing original. But Kit Pedler was a real science fiction fan and he gave me a few ideas which were more science fiction than ‘Doctor Who’. We then suggested ideas to each other and built on them, and before we knew it we were into a really good creative session. I think that during that first session we pretty well mapped out the storyline that became ‘The War Machines’.
It was the beginning of a creative partnership that was to endure for several years, and was to produce the Cybermen for ‘Doctor Who’. In 1979, in an introduction to a collection of ‘Dan Dare’ picture strips from ‘The Eagle’ comic, Pedler reflected on the genesis of these creatures:
“At the time I was obsessed as a scientist with the differences and similarities between the human brain and advanced computing machines, and I was thinking that although I could easily imagine a logical machine reasoning to itself and manipulating events outside it, by no stretch of the imagination could I visualise a machine producing a poem by Dylan Thomas. And so the Cybermen appeared.”
Kit Pedler was not without a sense of humour; for many years after his last work on ‘Doctor Who’, providing the storyline for ‘The Invasion’, he kept a Cyberman costume on display in his office at the University, intimidating anyone who entered.

After Doctor Who the next project to be initiated by Pedler and Davis was born of Pedler’s own disillusionment with the scientific establishment of which he was a part. The BBC’s ‘Doomwatch’ series aired Pedler’s fears about the seemingly reckless abandon which accompanies technological advances, resulting in pollution of the environment and threatening the future of mankind. In a 1969 radio discussion, Pedler outlined the series’ premise:
“It’s about the first three scientific ombudsmen put out by a government to look into possible harmful effects of scientific research, and in it we find that our three characters keep coming up against all the various vested
interests politically in the government, vested interests in science itself, and we tried to write stories around this general theme.”
Pedler also affirmed his views about the duty of his fellow scientists involved with these new developments:
“I think the scientist is a citizen, and as such he has a complete responsibility as a citizen for the work he does. I don’t think he can ever say ‘Of course, it’s up to a politician’, or it’s up to the people or something. He is the people, he is concerned with politics.”
However, Pedler acknowledged the problems facing the individual who voices objections:
“I think the technologically profuse society we’re growing up in is becoming so oppressive in its side effects that the individual’s emotions have very little say. If a group of people want to protest about something then they’re often forced into extreme measures, so that if they make a democratic, quiet protest about their misgivings about a particular subject, then I think no notice will be taken of it.”
‘Doomwatch’ began its first season in 1970, bringing subjects such as the dumping of nerve gas at sea, test tube genesis and the effects of the misuse of science prominently to the public’s attention for the first time. Pedler became known as “Dr Doom”, but when the second season began transmission later that year, he was still firm in his convictions:
‘I’m just as concerned as I ever have been. But I’m putting my concern to a more practical use now. I’m giving a series of lectures on ‘Doomwatch’ themes; and I meet with a group of scientists who are just as concerned about the dangers of technology.”
A final season of Doomwatch was transmitted in 1972, followed by a feature film, but by this time Pedler’s and Davis’s connections with the series had been severed. However, they continued to express their view through a series of novels based on ‘Doomwatch’-like themes. Indeed, the first of these — ‘Mutant 59: the Plastic Eater’ — was an adaptation of the premise used in the television series’ opening episode. ‘Brainrack’ the following novel, dealt with the effects of lead in petrol on the brain, and their last book together, ‘The Dynostar Menace, told of what could happen when an experimental reactor aboard a Skylab—like space station is sabotaged, and the terrible consequences of the Earth being charred by ultra—violet radiation.
As with a lot of their writing, Pedler was concerned primarily with the scientific research and providing the concept for these novels, while Davis concentrated on interpreting this into a dramatic narrative. But Pedler did produce fiction on his own, including two radio plays
‘Trial by Logic’ and ‘Sunday Lunch’ — as well as several short stories. One gripping ghost story of his concerned the experiences of an astronaut who is ‘haunted’ by his on—board computer, which seems to manifest the personality of a recently deceased colleague. Did the man tamper with the computer before his death, or is his ghost possessing the capsule? The reader is chilled by either prospect.
In the meantime, Pedler was still continuing his researches at the London University as well as giving broadcasts about cybernetics end ecology.
Pedler spent three years researching his final major project, travelling to the United States to interview scientists and witness their experiments, for the Thames television series ‘Mind over Matter’ — subtitled ‘A Scientists View of the Paranormal’. When he concluded his investigations, he summed his views up thus:
“A scientist would have to be either massively ignorant or a confirmed bigot to deny the evidence that the human mind can make connection with space, time and matter in ways which have nothing to do with the ordinary senses. Further, he cannot deny that these connections are compatible with current thinking in Physics, and may in the future become accepted as a part of an extended science, in which the description ‘paranormal’ no longer applies and can be replaced by ‘normal’.
Pedler died during the preparation of the final programme of the series. He was due to make another documentary series for Thames, entitled ‘Living without Oil’, and was due to travel to the United States to act as scientific adviser on the filming of ‘The Dynostar Menace’ novel. He was also in the process of writing a sequel to the work that can be seen as his legacy — ‘The Quest for Gaia’.
Gaia was the name given by the Greeks to one of the goddesses of the Earth, and Pedler used this name to describe the ecosystem of the planet, which in his view could be likened to a living organism with the awareness and ability to repair any damage inflicted upon it; a process that could sometimes take millions of years, but which happened none the less. He believed that our current industrial society is so incompatible with the life process of the planet that unless we learn to live in symbiosis with it, we will upset the balance to such en extent that we will be destroyed. But the planet will survive.
Pedler saw the excessive waste produced by our society as the main culprit for this imbalance; every system, even in nature, creates entropy, but whereas in the natural order of things waste decays and is eventually ploughed back into the eco—system, the man—made processes seldom conform to this principle, Pedler illustrated this by the example of a power station which uses only twenty—eight per cent of the energy in its fuel to create electricity; the remaining seventy—two per cent being released into the atmosphere as waste heat — pollution. Another example of this principal is the needless packaging of certain consumer goods, Energy is expended in the creation of something which will be discarded once the goods are purchased, then more energy is required to transport the packaging to a centre to be destroyed. As a form of protest, Pedler was not averse to entering a shop to buy a shirt and stripping the garment of its redundant packaging, depositing the card and pins on the counter, before slinging the new shirt over his shoulder and strolling off,
Pedler attempted to live a simple life, rejecting many of the values and products of the industrial society in order to reduce his own personal ‘entropy debt’, working out practical alternatives which he put into use himself. These changes he chronicled in his book:
“There is no point in proposing changes unless they lead to an improvement in human creativity and happiness; and it is my strong belief that if we can re—learn a way of life which is, as far as possible, removed from the industrial process, then we can not only live within the limits set by the Earth, but also reawaken an expanded sense of vision and consciousness which our ancestors once had as a natural birthright. A vision which we have almost entirely suppressed by accepting the glittering products of industrialism.”
Gerry Davis appeared on that 1981 edition of ‘Paperbacks’, discussing Pedler’s work as well as paying tribute to his friend and collaborator:
“There have been many prophets of doom.., what Kit was, essentially, was a very human person and, I think, a poet.”

Original article by David Auger from Doctor Who - The Invasion - An adventure in Space & Time magazine. With thanks to Michael Seely